Bolton Wanderers v Middlesbrough: Five Things

Ben Hoskins

Our man in the stands Chris Manning takes a look back at the Boro game and wonders if we can learn anything from the performance as the season draws to a close.

1) DOUGIE IS A GOODIE

As the season has developed, we have seen the wisdom in the Chairman's appointment of the relatively unproven Dougie Freedman back in October 2012. He has tinkered and changed things, he has bruised egos and he has taken Bolton Wanderers forward, undoubtedly so.

After his arrival and after the first few weeks of the season there were numerous doubters. They were unconvinced by the changes as the new manager learned about his charges. The football at times was uninspired and perhaps backed up some negative reports from fans of his former club Crystal Palace, and results were hard to come by.

In the initial period following his appointment it seemed like the club had taken one step forward in sacking Owen Coyle, but two back in appointment somebody who had less experience that Coyle - someone who had been criticised for his lack of experience in the final days of his tenure at the Reebok Stadium.

Freedman however brought experience with him, something with Coyle failed to recognise. The appointment of the much travelled and widely experienced Lennie Lawrence as Assistant Manager allowed Freedman to have an older and wiser head alongside his own. You often see Lawrence, Freedman and Curtis Fleming in a huddle on the sideline as they debate their next move. It's this nod to experience and to opinions other than his own that puts Freedman apart as he is prepared to take on advice rather than plough on convinced that his way is the right way, which again is a much-levelled criticism of his predecessor.

As we welcomed Middlesbrough to the Reebok Stadium we expected changes. We knew that the injury to David Ngog especially would force a change in the front line, along with the now-regular inclusions of promising young attacker Chris Lester on the substitutes bench - someone whom I am excited to see play, considering his rapid progression through the youth and reserve ranks.

Freedman plays games. He knows who to keep in and to keep out. He plays the media, he tells fibs to journalists as to who is available and who isn't. He dropped Chris Eagles when his form dropped, despite him being arguably one of our most important players this season - he is not afraid to make the tough choices. His intervention in the Marvin Sordell issue earlier in the season is reaping rewards now as the player has gone from a sidelined afterthought to a regular starter in the first team. His handling of sensitive matters such as the Stuart Holden loan and return has shown a maturity missing amongst his contemporaries.

He could do with a holiday, as that Scottish pallor isn't very appealing, but other than that it's hard to find fault with him. There can be few doubters still remaining, as Freedman has shown that he has the ability to get us up, whether that is something which happens sooner rather than later.

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Ben Hoskins/Getty Images

2) WE MISS JAY SPEARING, BUT....

When we signed Jay Spearing from Liverpool in the summer I wasn't expecting fireworks, and to be fair to him I don't think he has delivered any, either. Instead what we have found is a solid if unspectacular midfielder, who can deliver laser-accurate passes as well as good old-fashioned tackles adding bite to a somewhat soft midfield. Therefore it was with some trepidation that news of his season-ending toe injury came about.

Since his injury we have been well covered in central midfield, with the performances of Medo Kamara being an absolute highlight, meaning that whilst we have missed Jay Spearing we have perhaps not missed him as much as had we not made the January signing in his position.

Comfortable on the ball, accurate with it and tenacious without he's the complete modern midfielder and I think we've got a gem. To think that we spent £6m on Fabrice Muamba, and £700,000 on Medo Kamara is a sobering thought. I don't know about you but I know which of the two is a better footballer.

Against Middlesbrough this past Saturday, Medo Kamara was the hub of the Bolton Wanderers side. Whilst the opposition started brightly, with 'next big thing' Chelsea loanee Josh McEachran being a thorn in our side, it only took 20 minutes or so for the experienced Medo to dominate, so much so that the lightweight and ineffective McEachran was then substituted shortly into the second half. His physicality and on-the-ball skill was such that the England u21 mdfielder was rendered useless.

As the game developed he was allowed the move further forward and was unlucky not to score with a difficult 25 yard volley with his right foot. It forced a great save from Steele in the Middlesbrough goal but showed the range of Medo's talents, which are not restricted to just tough tackling. I think we've found a gem and he is perhaps the only central midfielder on our books who is a Premiership footballer in waiting. I like him a lot.

3) STRIKERS

Marvin Sordell and David Ngog, Craig Davies and Marvin Sordell, and everything in between. All are permutations attempted by Dougie Freedman as he tries to find the magic formula to get his strikers firing. We've tried one up top, we've tried two central strikers and we've tried playing one alone with another in 'the hole' but still we see tinkering whenever a team is named.

Obviously with the injuries suffered by Ngog and the as yet unexplained but much-gossiped about absence of Kevin Davies then the Middlesbrough game was always likely to be met with Sordell and Craig Davies - caused more by the enforced absences of other men than the achievements of either selected striker.

I have spoken before about how I have changed my opinion of Sordell, as he changed from a bit of a moper to an effective Championship striker, but the game on Saturday unfortunately saw a return to the player he was back before Christmas and before the arrival of Dougie Freedman. His body language was poor and his involvement was minimal. I will admit to a moment of panic when I saw that he was picking the ball up after Lee-Chung Yong was tripped by Jonathan Woodgate for the Bolton penalty. However he scored a goal and we got three points, so that's good enough.

Craig Davies is more of an enigma. I can absolutely see why Dougie Freedman brought him to Bolton Wanderers. He is not short of skill, nor strength, and yet at no time do I feel like he's a serious goal threat to the opposition. Granted, he started the Middlesbrough game well, and tested their goalkeeper with a rasping drive early on, but after that I thought he faded and was deservedly substituted in the second half. He is clearly a good footballer at this level, but I remain unconvinced in terms of his larger game. It's still early days in his Bolton career, and it will take for him to find his feet but considering his performance I wouldn't be surprised to see him return to the substitutes bench for the upcoming game away at Cardiff City this coming Saturday.

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Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

4) I WAS SAYING BOO-TERFIELD

Now I've spoken previously about the antics of our supporters in terms of their treatment of certain players. From the top of my head this season we have collectively been responsible for having a pop at Marvin Sordell, Chris Eagles, Adam Bogdan, Zat Knight, Kevin Davies and now Danny Butterfield. We have seen cheers at substitutions, dismay at missed catches and outrage at defensive calamity but this latest addition to the Hall of Shame means that we have reached a new low.

Danny Butterfield has been brought in on a temporary loan deal from Southampton in order to aid our defence in this most testing of times. He is a former colleague of the Bolton manager Dougie Freedman and this knowledge of his game had led to Freedman trusting him at a time when he must have absolute trust in his players, especially defenders.

Now don't get me wrong - fans pay their money and are entitled to hold an opinion, just as I am to hold the opinion that their attitude towards Butterfield is wrong. I freely admit in my younger years to have been a booer - I'm sure Nicky Summerbee would attest to the strength of my feelings when as a teen I saw him lumbering up the right wing like he was pulling an anchor through treacle, but since then I've come to realise that that approach isn't right.

Against Middlesbrough, the manager saw fit to bring Butterfield on in the 87th minute, replacing Marvin Sordell as Bolton attempted to see the game out. He was immediately brought onto the right hand side in order to help the struggling Sam Ricketts, who was having a poor game against the lively Gambian winger Mustapha Carayol. Butterfield took his position and whilst relatively uninvolved will no doubt look back upon the events that welcomed him to the pitch with sadness.

As the announcement of his introduction was made, the applause for the departing Marvin Sordell was accompanied by loud boos from section of the home support. Sordell, considering his experiences this season, could have been forgiven for thinking that the Bolton Wanderers supporters were yet again hounding a below-par performance, but this time their ire was reserved for the on-loan Southampton man. It was a completely unnecessary and frankly ridiculous way to act towards someone who was coming on to do his utmost to aid the Bolton Wanderers cause.

We should have more respect towards the player, firstly, and secondly more respect towards the judgement of the manager who has earned that right over the course of his short time at the club. If we are bringing somebody on in a tight game such as the Middlesbrough one then it is because Dougie Freedman truly believes that it is the right thing to do, and we should back that decision.

I apologise to Danny Butterfield on behalf of the right-minded Bolton Wanderers supporters, and would also comment that the behaviour of those booing was countered by those in the crowd challenging the booers - asking them 'why?', which was pleasing.

5) FIRST LOOK AT TOM EAVES

Tom Eaves signed for Bolton Wanderers from Oldham Athletic as an 18-year-old in 2010, for a fee believed to be in the region of £300,000. Since then a combination of injury and loan moves to lower league sides have meant that followers of the first team have been denied a sight of the 6ft 5in centre forward.

His performances on loan at Bristol Rovers and Shrewsbury Town, combined with a goal return of 13 in 26 appearances led to his recall to the Reebok Stadium, and following a short cameo against Leicester City last Tuesday we finally got to see the player make his home debut with 18 minutes remaining against Middlesbrough, replacing the ineffective Craig Davies.

I had seen Eaves play several times for the reserves, and will freely confess to having doubts about where this lad could go. However, you cannot argue with the goals that he has scored both for the reserves and for his loan clubs this season and therefore he does indeed deserve his chance.

Eaves arrived onto the pitch and immediately took up position against the experienced Cameroonian defender Andre Bikey. Using his strength and touch he gave the defender a tougher ride than Craig Davies had, and he showed one or two neat touches and got in some decent positions.

So on this short showing it appears that he has benefitted from exposure to regular and competitive first team games. His game has come on in leaps and bounds from the awkward teen who was a regular in the reserves for Owen Coyle and the club can certainly benefit from it.

One slight downside, and perhaps one that we should have foreseen was that his arrival prompted one or two longer balls being played out of defence towards his head, something that has been missing from our play in Kevin Davies' absence. With the captains' impending departure then there is a slot for Eaves to fill, and from what we saw on Saturday he is certainly looking like being capable.

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